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International Mother Language Day
by Audrey Azoulay
UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Feb. 2018
“A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on the occasion of International Mother Language Day.
“It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life,” she added.
Calling the Day an “essential component of the intangible heritage of humanity,” Ms. Azoulay underscored UNESCO’s long-standing commitment to preserving and vitalizing language, defending linguistic diversity and promoting multilingual education.
“This commitment concerns mother languages in particular, which shape millions of developing young minds, and are the indispensable vector for inclusion in the human community, first at the local level, then at the global level,” she elaborated.
UNESCO supports policies, particularly in multilingual countries, which promote mother languages and indigenous languages and recommends using them from the first years of schooling, because children learn best in their mother language.
Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether.
When languages fade, so does the world''s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.
At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired.
Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus play an important role in promoting sustainable futures.
International Mother Language Day also supports target 6 of Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): "Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy."
International Mother Language Day 2018. (UNESCO)
Linguistic diversity and multi-lingualism: keystones of sustainability and peace
On International Mother Language Day 2018, celebrated every year on 21 February, UNESCO reiterates its commitment to linguistic diversity and invites its Member States to celebrate the day in as many languages as possible as a reminder that linguistic diversity and multilingualism are essential for sustainable development.
UNESCO has been celebrating International Mother Language Day for nearly 20 years with the aim of preserving linguistic diversity and promoting mother tongue-based multilingual education.
Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. One language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.
Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.
This year, UNESCO commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its bold statement that ‘no discrimination can be made on the basis of language’, and celebrates its translation into more than 500 languages.
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status..” - Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
* United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - Backgrounder Indigenous languages:
The vast majority of the languages that are under threat of disappearing are indigenous languages. It is assessed that one indigenous language dies every two weeks.
This pressing threat has been described as the most critical issue faced by indigenous peoples today. Indigenous languages are critical markers of the cultural health of indigenous peoples. When indigenous languages are under threat, so too are indigenous peoples themselves.
Indigenous languages are not only methods of communication, but also extensive and complex systems of knowledge. Indigenous languages are central to the identity of indigenous peoples, the preservation of their cultures, worldviews and visions and an expression of self-determination.
The threat of extinction of indigenous languages is generally seen as the direct result of colonialism and colonial practices that resulted in the decimation of indigenous peoples, their cultures and their languages.
Through policies of assimilation, forced relocation, boarding schools and other colonial and post-colonial policies, laws and actions, indigenous languages in all regions face the threat of extinction. Globalization and the rise of a small number of culturally dominant languages have exacerbated the threat to indigenous languages.

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New agreement marks step forward for Environmental Justice in Latin America
by World Resources Institute, Access Initiative
After a six-year negotiation process, 24 countries have adopted the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as LAC P10.
The agreement is Latin America and the Caribbean’s first ever legally binding agreement on environmental rights, designed to protect environmental defenders, improve access to environmental information, extend public participation in environmental decision-making processes, and more. It requires governments to set new standards to achieve Principle 10, the environmental democracy principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
WRI serves as Secretariat of The Access Initiative, a civil society network that has participated as a “representative of the public” to provide text and expertise throughout the negotiation process, working closely with governments and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to arrive at a legally-binding agreement this week.
Below is a statement from Carole Excell, Acting Director, Environmental Democracy Practice, WRI and "Member of the Public" Negotiator for LAC P10:
“Countries and civil society groups across Latin America and the Caribbean have taken a historic stand to safeguard the backbone of environmental protection: people. Violence against environmental defenders is on the rise, and Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world for them. By adopting LAC P10, governments in the region have agreed to legally binding provisions that will help prevent and punish threats and attacks against environmental defenders.
“I cannot understate how critical it is for communities to have access to environmental information, like data on local water pollution or nearby mining concessions. LAC P10 is designed not only to protect environmental defenders, but also to make it easier for people to get information, participate in decision-making that will affect their lives and hold powerful interests to account. Hopefully LAC P10 will mean fewer natural resources exploited and communities at risk.
“The agreement could impact up to 500 million people and demonstrates global leadership from the region. LAC P10 is only the world’s second regional agreement on environmental rights, and is the first for Latin America and the Caribbean. Chile, Costa Rica and Panama have been determined, innovative drivers of the negotiations, and their continued leadership will be critical in the implementation process to come.
“LAC P10 is a major step forward, but the work has only just begun. Governments must move quickly to sign and ratify the agreement, and then ensure robust compliance and implementation once it enters into force.
“One more person dying to protect the environment is too much. It’s time for countries to defend the defenders.”

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